From Halo 4’s emotional plotline of losing someone you care about to the themes of trust sewn throughout Halo Infinite, the franchise has shown a willingness to venture into the profound. But even at its most heartfelt, Halo still naturally weaves in moments of humor, particularly through comedic lines from the Unggoy (also known as Grunts), the lowest order of enemies encountered in the series.
Their dialogue recently went viral online, with players around the internet sharing their own personal favorite lines. Fanbyte spoke with 343 Industries about the Grunts’ place within the Halo universe, as well as how they were adapted into Halo Infinite’s new sandbox environment.
Under the Covenant, one of the main antagonistic forces in Halo, there weren’t many factions lower in the power hierarchy than the Grunts, who were primarily used as cannon fodder. However, under the Banished — the enemy species introduced in 2017’s Halo Wars 2 — came a wider range of opportunities for Grunts to move up the corporate ladder.
“It’s actually been a particularly fun element of evolving the Banished as a faction: exploring ways we can look at some of the species in a different lens than they might have been within the Covenant, and the Grunts are a great example of that,” Halo narrative writer Jeff Easterling tells Fanbyte. “We even have a couple of them serving as high-value targets for players to try and hunt down within the game’s campaign.”
What makes the Grunts so compelling is the humorous moments of brevity they add in between the serious setpieces. Some of the funniest ones in Halo Infinite come from Glibnub, an Unggoy communications officer who serves the Banished and operates the propaganda towers. Protagonist Master Chief can destroy these towers to weaken the Banished’s influence and earn Valor points to upgrade his equipment.
These lines are occasionally self-aware, referencing the franchise’s title screen Gregorian chant theme or how there are just too many Halo games to keep track of. Even the game’s difficulty setting can affect Glibnub’s dialogue, such as the line: “Ok, ok, you beat us, but did you do it on LEGENDARY?” Glibnub also pokes fun at narrative beats, like the reveal of Master Chief’s real name, saying, “So, so wait a minute, I just found out that the Master Chief’s name is John. John? John? We’re afraid of a guy named John? Are you kidding me?”
Joseph Staten, Head of Creative for Halo Infinite, has been one of the voice actors for the Grunts since the original Halo trilogy and is also the voice behind Glibnub. He says that from the beginning, the Grunts have always done their best, bravely knowing that they are utterly expendable as they fling themselves into battle. They act as key comic relief characters showing that Halo’s brand of science fiction can be equally dark and colorful.
“This fundamentally tragic-comic aspect of their personality has long given us wonderful opportunities to explore a wide range of emotions — from bravado to terror, joy to despair, and so on,” he explains. Over the years, the fan appreciation of the Grunts has emboldened the studio to explore more complex characterizations for them.
Glibnub is the primary example of this in Halo Infinite. He occasionally broadcasts half-truths and even lies through these towers, such as saying that the rumors of a Spartan roaming around are completely false even though Master Chief survived his near-death encounter at the very beginning of the game. At other times, Glibnub will just air his own grievances, like complaining about Master Chief continuing to take down the propaganda towers one by one. These propaganda towers are the biggest influences on the Grunts’ dialogue in Halo Infinite.
“Things like the propaganda towers, in particular, gave us the opportunity to create points of interest that weren’t just a combat experience, and that also gave us further opportunity to communicate the state of the world to the player,” Easterling explains.
The campaign designers, writers, and engineers had to work extensively to design the right hooks and event triggers to make these kinds of narrative moments happen in the first place. They had to take into account the player’s progress within the campaign, narrative context (such as which bosses have already been defeated), and even the specific species the Grunts were speaking to. These bits and pieces were even more vital when it came to crafting a less traditionally linear experience compared to previous Halo games.
The dialogue was crucial in reflecting Halo Infinite’s expansive possibilities. Easterling notes that while 343 Industries never necessarily went out to create an “open-world game,” the team did want to explore what might be possible in creating “the most open Halo” yet.
Easterling, Associate Creative Director Paul Crocker, Narrative Experience Director Dan Chosich, and former Lead Narrative Designer Aaron Linde would have conversations about how to ensure that the player would feel a seamless experience regardless of whether they were on the critical path or wandering open-world environments.
Leaning into the NPC dialogue helps achieve that goal. For 343, one of the biggest goals with any NPC dialogue is to make the entire world feel more dynamic or lived-in through mechanisms like live gameplay or audio logs. Not only would there be moments referencing certain events in the story or commenting on player progress, but there would also be dialogue lines about “regular life” in the Halo universe, such as a story about a Marine trying to get back home or a Grunt hoping they’d survive the next battle.
“Knowing that players would likely have the opportunity to spend a lot more time exploring the environment in a game like Halo Infinite made us want to try and craft as wide a range of unique moments as possible to make sure things feel as fresh as they can,” Easterling says.
There are also times when Halo Infinite breaks the fourth wall with memes. There is an easter egg in the game for the Craig meme from 2020’s Halo Infinite demo where Master Chief shoots off Craig’s helmet, revealing his face close up before killing the Spartan. There is also a line from a Grunt saying the “Mom said it’s MY turn on the Xbox” meme, which is typically used to poke fun at weirdly proportioned characters.
Easterling shares it’s fun to occasionally lean into something embedded in the current fan community lexicon, especially when the team has the opportunity to reference a fun or humorous shared experience with the Halo community itself. “At the end of the day, we’re all fans too,” he says. “Plus, it also helps remind us all that, ultimately, we’re all making and playing games largely because they’re just a whole lot of fun.”
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Easterling feels Grunts particularly offer the opportunity to have a more “balanced diet” of content across a generally expansive campaign. They offer something to contrast against the more serious moments in the Halo series and can help the player appreciate both the serious and humorous sides more in the long run.
If the games were serious at every single given moment, then the tension could wear thin. Characters like the Grunts provide periods of levity and allow players to take their minds off whatever big bad problem that Master Chief is currently facing. This, in turn, also helps the world of Halo feel more alive.
“Our consistent hope has been that the Grunts, and all the other enemy characters, are more than clever AI who players enjoy outwitting in combat,” Staten says. “We want them to be part of a deep, rich universe filled with unique characters that players love — or love to hate.”